The Internet of Things – Time to Pause and Look at the Approaching Wave?


“Our homes have always seemed a refuge from the merciless world of commerce… Increasingly, though, Corporate America is looking to use the Internet of Things as a trojan horse to penetrate our remaining private moments.”

Todd Wasserman

Take a look at this video of a new product, the Amazon Echo. In the middle of your living room (or bedroom), this clever device becomes the focal point for conversation and communication? Need some news? Need the weather? Need an answer? This neat little beast will do it all. Read it out. Listen and respond. It will read the news, it will play music. It is “always on”.

It is there to help, to respond, to deliver content into your room. And, of course, to potentially advertise to you and to analyse your conversations and behaviour in order to target you with adverts for products and services. Remember this phrase: always on.

Then remember one of the core beliefs of Facebook – transparency.

Yes, the walls of your house turn transparent. There are no bricks any longer, only see-through glass.

Is that what you want? Often seemingly benevolent and innocuous, the internet of things will become responsive fridges, intelligent thermostats, communicating home appliances – but also each part will become an opportunity to show adverts and to feed behavioural data into the corporate intelligence machine, serving the goal of the enterprise = to make money.

This may not bother you. You may already accept this a the new reality and the price of “free” services. You may love the new transparency and have little issue with loss of privacy.

When a device becomes the focal point for our enquiring behaviour, our questions, or need for music, answers, advice and information, the family gains a shared focus. It becomes part of our common ground. But what happens if the price of that focus is a loss of connection with each other. If we ask the gadget but stop asking each other, something essential may be lost. I believe a critical element in family connection is our shared enquiry into the world through each other, via our shared stumbling. We realise ourselves through those around us – they speak to us through our questions of them.

It isn’t just the answer the child gets from mom or dad, it’s the process of sharing curiousity, of exchanging favours, of the gestures we pass between each other. The gizmo in the room that answers all of our needs, ignores the value in our getting needs met through the wonderfully clumsy human condition. It is as much that I try for you than I get the answer right.

As, I say, none of that may bother you in the least. Look away now. Get buying.

But it will bother some. For some, privacy is a choice and something we should have for free. For some, home is where the heart is, and that heart is affected, even disturbed and degraded by commercial agendas. I may not want to go to my fridge of a midnight snack, after waking from a troubling dream, and – without my say so, be targeted with an advert for ice cream, or an alert that my fridge has run out of beer, partly because the sensor above my bed observed me sweating hot in may sleep, and told the fridge to nudge me to order more ice cream and beer. Next step – the implant eavesdrops on my dreams and I come downstairs in the morning to an advert on my coffee maker to buy a spy camera, feeding on the fears of my dream that my partner might be about to deceive me.

It’s the dark side of course. The internet of things, in which my home because intelligent and responsive, could keep us all more secure, reduce my energy bills and even enhance my health. The scope for human benefit and innovation is huge. The internet of things could be so designed as to really serve the home, really assist family cohesion and respect the sacredness of the last private space in our lives. But if the core motive behind it is for yet more advertising revenue and to lock me into platforms, products and services, my private space will become easily and quickly invaded by commercial motives. I’ll be sharing my home with marketing executives.

Some very young children wake in the night and see angels at the foot of their bed. Some have imaginary friends. The new angels and imaginary friends will be holograms offering free gifts and discounts. Yet, equally, the hologram could be a friendly person saying “don’t touch that switch, there’s a live wire and you’ll get a shock!”. If we are given the means and the ability to create and enhance the home, the internet of things, on our terms, will be exciting and benevolent. Imagine what we could do. Imagining a marketing opportunity is a disappointing failure of imagination.

What do I lose by ensuring that I am fully conscious of exactly what I am letting into my home? I don’t believe we ever lose anything by staying free and conscious.

If that bothers you, then it might be time to open your eyes and not blunder blindly forwards into what is coming towards us right now. You might want to meet the miracle with a bit of health reflection and scrutiny. It really is about the small print and gazing into the phenomena behind the neat adverts on YouTube. The current gadgets and gizmos are also symptoms. The root causes are processes largely driven by wishful views of how humanity needs to behave. And the owners of those wishes have service to humanity as only one of their motives. Others include shaping the living space to their commercial ends and being able to define how we behave 24/7 behind the once closed doors we called home.

About Paul Levy

Paul is a writer, thinker, facilitator, theatre-maker, and conversifier. He is the author of the book, Digital Inferno.

Posted on November 7, 2014, in Key themes. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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